Black Mirror Season 5 Is a Return to Form — Depending on the Episode
The sci-fi thriller series Black Mirror has returned to Netflix for a fifth season. Following mixed reviews for the series’ choose-your-own-adventure interactive movie Bandersnatch last year, many were left wondering if the show would bounce back to its original glory and critical acclaim. So, has this new season delivered the thrills and horrors of tech as successfully as its previous four seasons? Maybe, maybe not. Due to the show’s anthological structure, it may just depend on the episode.
Episode 1: Striking Vipers
Old college friends Danny (Anthony Mackie) and Karl (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) reconnect via a virtual reality version of their favorite old video game (with their virtual avatars played by Ludi Lin and Pom Klementieff). When their fighting gets more physical, things get weird.
While the premise of this episode sounds like solid Black Mirror gold, the plot burns out somewhere within its second act. Most of the exciting action takes place within the first 20 minutes of the episode, and from there it stagnates, resulting in a rather textbook third act that leaves its audience missing that daring or unexpected twist that one has come to expect from the series. A fascinating subject that unfortunately fails to reach its full potential of peak Black Mirror glory. While the performances by the episode’s skilled actors are strong (Nikki Beharie in particular as Danny’s college sweetheart and wife), it is not a solid start to the show’s return. Still, you shouldn’t let this episode stop you from continuing your binge, as it’s only uphill from here.
Episode 2: Smithereens
A rideshare driver in London (Andrew Scott) creates an international affair when he kidnaps an employee (Damson Idris) of a popular social media site with a striking resemblance to Facebook. When his plan goes wrong, he must improvise to get what he wants.
Do not let the beginning of this episode fool you. Despite its rather slow first 25 minutes, the plot picks up surprisingly and will keep you on edge until the very last second, albeit with absolutely no relief (you’ll see what we mean). A more down-to-earth example of a Black Mirror episode, its honesty and accuracy to the current tech climate may make this episode more haunting than the show’s more fanciful or futuristic chapters, as this is a scenario that could happen right here, right now. While the episode’s moralistic intentions feel a little heavy-handed up front, it is appreciated by the close, and therefore forgivable. Topher Grace’s late entry into the episode as the Mark Zuckerberg-type social media guru is also a great reason to see this episode through.
Episode 3: Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too
A lonely teenager (Angourie Rice) becomes obsessed with the Alexa-esque doll version of her pop star idol, Ashley O (Miley Cyrus). Simultaneously, superstar Ashley herself discovers her life is quickly falling apart.
This episode represents peak Black Mirror insanity. Set in a time period that seems as close as tomorrow, with just enough suspension of disbelief for an audience to buy it, it is a solid example of what we have come to expect from the series. It may not be as flashy or twisty as some of the show’s previous episodes, but in this shortened season, it is certainly a stand-out. Miley Cyrus playing a role that seems hauntingly familiar to her days as Hannah Montana makes the story hit even closer to home, and also reminds us that Cyrus is a wonderful actress, with more depth than pop culture tends to give her credit for.